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How to set up a publishing house

How to set up a publishing house: Red Button Publishing

Caroline Goldsmith and Karen Ings founded Red Button Publishing in 2012. Like many professionals working with books, the idea of running their own publishing house had always appealed to them. Red Button published their fourth novel last summer. We wanted to find out some of the challenges and lessons learned from starting up from scratch, so here’s our interview with Caroline.

1. Congratulations on publishing your fourth novel. How have you chosen each of the titles you published? Do you have a different set of considerations from when you were working in-house at big publishers?

Choosing the books we publish at Red Button has really been a decision of the head and the heart for us. We decided when we began the venture that the books we worked on had to be books that we loved. I’d like to say that my career has always been about working on books that I really feel passionate about, but I’d be lying. In large publishing houses book proposals are often shot down before they reach anywhere near the final hurdle of publication ? and I know this because as a salesperson I was one of the people doing the shooting! When you’re driven by profits, and upon those profits balance the salaries and livelihoods of not only yourself but your colleagues, it’s often difficult to take a risk on something that’s a little different, something that doesn’t fit nicely into an established niche. And finding reasons not to publish a book is easy. When we read submissions at Red Button (and we read everything we’re sent), we’re looking for something that speaks to us as readers rather than business people. We both need to be totally on board to make it work. Our tastes are quite similar, but we do challenge each other. I am a sucker for horror fiction and Karen has never quite understood my distaste for Jane Austen. We’re immensely proud of our writers and the four books we’ve published to date.

2. What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned through running your own business?

I think the biggest lesson is that you never stop learning. Collectively we have over three decades of experience in book publishing, so you’d think that by now we would have it all covered. But in an industry being so radically reshaped by digital, there’s never a time when you can rest on your laurels. There will always be some new change to adapt to, a new skill to learn, a new problem to solve or a new venture to try out. Running Red Button has been a steep and sometimes frustrating learning curve.  For every victory there have been long periods hunched over spreadsheets or html code swearing quietly (or sometimes loudly) to myself. I think it’s the most exhausting and also the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had.

3. In your experience, what is your top tip for marketing, when you don’t have huge budgets to experiment?

I think one of my top tips would be to try stuff out. That sounds really simple, but it’s important. I’ve always felt that book marketing is an art rather than a science, in that there is no tried-and-tested formula. It’s hard work because realistically there is always something else you could be doing – the possibilities are vast. One important part of our strategy has been to keep the momentum up on our backlist titles. Traditionally marketing has been very frontlist-driven, with some books all but forgotten by their first birthday. We’re firm believers in the slow-burner!

My second tip would be to work on building good personal relationships with readers. We’re big fans of book bloggers, but a common mistake that a lot of independent authors make is to go straight in with the hard sell. We’re readers as well as publishers, so we understand how off-putting that is. We try to make sure that everything we do, from social media to press releases, has a distinctive Red Button voice. We also like our writers to have a voice outside the book, so we encourage them to write articles which we can publish on our blog or on other sites – two of our writers have written for BookMachine!

4. How have you adapted and learned how to deal with the multiple skills needed when running a small business? Any training or books which helped?

We do absolutely everything ourselves at Red Button: editing, formatting, cover design, social media, the lot. We don’t have a budget for training, so where we’ve had to acquire new skills – like ebook formatting – we’ve taught ourselves. There is a lot of information online. The publishing industry is a surprisingly open and friendly one, and people are willing to share their knowledge and expertise if you ask the right questions and are willing to learn. My advice to anyone within the industry or interested getting into the industry would be to get on social media, read articles and blogs, find out what people are doing and how they are doing it. Whichever side of the business you’re in, don’t narrow your view of it to just your particular field. Find out how the whole machine works and how to make it work better.

5. What can we expect to see from Red Button Publishing over the next 3-5 years?

We’re currently working on bringing out the titles we have published so far in paperback in 2015. We’re strong believers that the ebook is part of the future of literature, but print still has a place and we want our writers to reach as many readers as possible. And of course you can expect more fantastic fiction!


Laura Summers

Laura Summers

Co-founder of @bookmachine - the network for forward-thinking #publishing folks; and BookMachine Works - the fresh new creative agency for publishers

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